Rabbi Akiva

Shelach Lecha: The Little Things

Sefer Bamidbar describes not only the physical locale of the Jewish people, but their spiritual state. Wandering in the desert, they could not be self sufficient, neither physically nor spiritually. The book, like the desert, is one depressing story after another. While Bamidbar makes for fascinating reading and its lessons are crucial for community building, for those in the desert, little came of their aimless wandering.

Eiruvin 46b: Ignoring the Rules

While the basis of Jewish law (and much more) is to be found in the Talmud, the Talmud, in and of itself, is not a very good text for determining Jewish law. The legal analysis, the range of views, the tendency to move from one topic to another, and the fact that any given topic may be discussed in a variety of places makes reaching a conclusion on any particular issue a difficult task.

Eiruvin 21b: Rabbi Akiva's Water

It is hard to imagine one more dedicated to Torah than Rabbi Akiva. Despite the fact that he did not start learning until the age of forty (or more likely, because of this), his diligence was unsurpassed. It was to his Beit Midrash that Moshe Rabbeinu was transported from Sinai, as it was Rabbi Akiva who would derive "mountains and mountains of law" from the crowns on top of the letters in the Torah (Menachot 29b).

Shabbat 96b: Human Revelation

Of all the 39 Melachot, it is carrying that, by far, occupies the most pages of Talmudic discussion. In the midst of discussing this prohibition, the Talmud (Shabbat 96b) turns its focus to the Mekoshesh eitzim, gatherer of wood (see Bamidbar 15). Having been stoned for his infraction, the Talmud is interested in knowing what exactly he did wrong, with carrying being one of the possibilities raised.

Brachot 31: Where to Pray

The Talmud spends a good deal of time discussing the proper frame of mind for prayer. In a rather obvious remark (yet, much easier said than done), the Gemarah notes that “One must aim their thoughts towards heaven” (Brachot 31a). Proof for this is provided by the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, as follows: “Rav Yehuda says this was the custom of Rabbi Akiva, when he would pray between him and himself, one would leave him in this corner and find him in a different corner”. Yet, the Gemarah seems to note that such heavenly focus is only appropriate if one is davening privately.

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